The Briefing

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The Briefing

Friday, December 9, 2022

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It's Friday, December 9th, 2022.

I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

A Democratic Publicity Stunt Turned Into Huge Shift in Moral Landscape: Congress Passes ‘Respect for Marriage’ Act

Yesterday the United States House of Representatives adopted the Senate approved form of the Respect for Marriage Act and thus the bill is now sent to the president of the United States, Joe Biden for signature.

And President Biden has indicated that he will sign it with predictable enthusiasm. Now all of this is being celebrated as a great legislative victory by those who've been seeking the federal approval of same-sex marriage. That is the legislative approval, not merely the action by the United States Supreme Court in the Obergefell decision of 2015.

But we need to recognize that this does really represent something important. And I mean by we those who hold to marriage as a fact of creation and also as a matter of divine revelation, beyond that as a matter of civilizational achievement and recognition throughout all of known human history. So this is a major turning point.

It is not as proponents of the legislation have advertised, an urgent matter, because there is no current case even pending before the federal courts that would challenge Obergefell. This was a matter of political opportunism that all of a sudden actually turned into legislation. And that is acknowledged in the report about yesterday's congressional action as published in the New York Times.

It was a Democratic publicity stunt that turned out to lure enough Republicans to actually move it towards legislation. And now the House and the Senate have approved this new version and it will be going to the President for signature. But it's an even bigger matter when we think about the revolution that is reshaping the entire moral landscape of this culture because let's just remind ourselves, we've been saying this over and over again, but we need to say it soberly to ourselves.

We're talking here about marriage. To redefine marriage, to tamper with marriage, to subvert marriage is not, of course, as we contradict and correct the title of this legislation. The Respect for Marriage Act, it's not an act of respect. It is an act of profound disrespect. Indeed, as we understand it theologically disobedience. But we need to look at how the language has been framed.

We will look more closely at this in days and weeks to come. This is still going to be a big story. When the president signs the bill, it will be a big story. What he says will be a big story. It's a big story because of the major moral dimension and impact and revolution we are looking at here.

Now interestingly, even before the house voted on the bill, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, of course she is resigning, retiring from that position at the end of this Congress, but she wrote a piece, an opinion piece at the Washington Post entitled, "I'm Proud to Protect Marriage As One Of My Last Acts As Speaker."

Again, this is almost Orwellian in terms of the double speak and the misrepresentation, the propaganda here. She says she is proud as one of her last acts of speaker to protect marriage. Protect marriage from what? In this case the legislation began as a Democratic publicity stunt, but one that even surprised the Democrats in actually succeeding as legislation.

But it's interesting to see how she frames this. She begins by referencing the Supreme Court's decision, Obergefell v. Hodges. That was 2015 as she says just seven years ago. And she says that since the, "Same-sex couples have enjoyed the same marriage protections as other couples."

Now wait a minute, here she seems to be talking about something that can be recognized in the law, but here's where Christians need to understand marriage is actually pre political. It is pre legislative. And that's going to turn out to be of enormous importance. But then she says, "Right now that fundamental freedom is under real direct and urgent threat."

I have suggested again, as you just look at the context, it is under no threat that can be described as real or direct or urgent, just more publicity stunt, but one that worked. But then she goes on to talk about the Respect For Marriage Act as it is called by Congress and she defines what the bill would do and then she says, "We will soon send this vital legislation to President Biden for signature, A glorious triumph of love, of freedom and of dignity for all."

Those are three very lofty words. A glorious triumph of what? Love, freedom, dignity. Well, love of course, is one of the most used and misused words in the English lexicon. But the word dignity is also very interesting because at one level that may be the most important and revealing word used in this discourse. It's used over and over again.

It was used in the Supreme Court decisions legalizing same-sex marriage and striking down the Defensive Marriage Act. What is dignity? Well, in a very real sense, dignity means a certain kind of glory. A certain right ordering. To be dignified is to be worthy of dignity. That dignity is a matter of esteem. That esteem, however is to be grounded in reality.

That's what makes dignity very different than say celebrity. Celebrity is entirely superficial. Dignity is grounded in ontology, that is to say in being. And that's why civilization by civilization, there has been one way or another a very clear distinction between say dignity and celebrity.

But here you have the open celebration. And we saw this last week in another case in which the Supreme Court supposedly granted or extended dignity to same-sex marital relationships as defined by the law. Here's what we need to note. Dignity is grounded in creation. Dignity is grounded in the natural order. Dignity can't actually be given to something undignified.

Another way to put it, and this is what we discussed last week, is that it is beyond the power of the Supreme Court to extend or to offer dignity to anything. It can say it's doing so, but actually at the very best what the Supreme Court can do is respect and recognize a dignity that is already there. This is what the Supreme Court has done at its very best. It has recognized and respected a dignity that is already present.

The Supreme Court doesn't claim to be able to create that dignity. It is merely respecting that dignity. And this is where the categories get confused and the proponents of same-sex marriage are those who are intentionally confusing the categories. I'm not going to grant much more attention to Speaker Pelosi's statements, but I want to go to how she ended the column.

She said this, "After the Obergefell decision was announced, Jim Obergefell declared to an ecstatic crowd outside the Supreme Court. Today's ruling from the Supreme Court affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts, our love is equal." Well, again, that is not a status in reality and it is not a status that the Supreme Court can actually grant.

It is also a statement that is made here as if it is self evidently true and self evidently clear. Our love is equal. Well, who is our? And what is love? What does equal mean? You see how that kind of language serves the cause of a moral revolution and the energies of the moral revolutionaries. But it is a language that is so common to revolutions. It claims far more than it can deliver.

We're going to turn to questions very quickly and that's a feature of Friday's program. But because this news broke, it's very important that we deal with the issue today. We will come back to it later, but it's importance demands that we acknowledge what the House of Representatives did yesterday.

But I also want to end on this issue by going back to the claim, "Our love is equal" or to the statements about love and respect and dignity and about marriage, same-sex marriage being equal to well, what civilization has recognized based in creation as marriage for millennia.

I want to note one difference that the Supreme Court or any other human court simply can't change. A part of almost every background to an understanding of the discussion of marriage comes down to its reproductive function, to the ability that marriage, the conjugal relationship between a man and a woman is privileged in society, not only because they love one another, but because that creates the context out of which children and the very future of civilization comes.

The Supreme Court of the United States may have ruled in 2015, the Senate may have voted just a matter of days ago and the House just yesterday, the White House may be inking the pen the President will use to sign this legislation, but the fact is this bill is, if anything, an even greater example of the limitations of human government.

The Supreme Court of the United States can't create dignity and the United States Congress may pass this legislation, the president may sign it, but they cannot make what is not marriage reproductive fruitful. That is beyond their power, way past that power.

Part

Am I a Christian Nationalist for Supporting Pro-Life Laws and Wanting Biblical Ethics in Voting Patterns? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

All right. We turn to questions.

I appreciate all the questions sent in by listeners to The Briefing and all of them are always thoughtful and some of them surprise me and it's the surprising ones that are fun.

And so we're going to have a mixture of questions today. We'll take as many as we can with time.

The first comes in from Scott and it's about Christian nationalism and he says that turn's being thrown around a lot lately. He says that his interpretation of what he's hearing is basically what a conservative Christian is, that is that you're going to have conservative Christians called Christian nationalists here in the United States.

He says, "Am I a Christian nationalist for not wanting pro-choice laws and equal protection under the law for the pre-born? Am I a nationalist for wanting biblical ethics in my voting patterns? How should we respond when this comes up?"

Well, this is the big issue right now discussed by so many. And sometimes with profits, sometimes merely with smoke. But nonetheless, one of the points I've made is that if you are a Christian in the United States who believes that the law and the moral culture of the United States should it all correspond with Christianity, then you are going to be called a Christian nationalist.

So that's the point I've made over the course of the last several years. And by the way, I've been at this a long time. So Scott, one of the things I have noted is that those on the left seek to dismiss those on the right, particularly conservative Christians with one kind of language or another. The radical right, the new Christian right it just goes on and on and on.

Christian nationalism is one of the terms that they are deriding now, and there's no way to escape it unless you just declare, "Okay, I'm the kind of Christian who believes that my Christianity should have no impact in the public square in the nation." Christian nationalism combines two terms, you recognize that, Christian and nationalism. There's so much there, it takes and deserves a much longer conversation than we can give at this particular moment.

But I think we can say this much for sure, it combines those two words because we recognize the importance of the nation and that means the implausibility of much of political significance beyond the level of the nation. We understand that the nation has an identity, that's why it is a nation and a part of that identity is the moral and entirely theological worldview at one level that brings that nation into being.

And it was a theological worldview that brought the nation known as the United States of America into being. Even those who didn't hold to the theology had to basically live and operate within that theological worldview of Western Christianity, and indeed, even overwhelmingly of Protestant Christianity.

So back when the founders, say of the United States, were framing the original laws of this country, the various states and colonies, they didn't really have to consider some kind of worldwide observational study, some kind of longitudinal research about what marriage is, they knew what marriage was and they were all practically speaking members of churches that were really clear based upon Christian truth about what marriage is.

That was not a controversial issue and it wasn't accidental. That didn't emerge from nowhere, it came from Christianity. So like it or not, the bear historical fact is that the American nation was born saturated with a biblical and indeed a Protestant Christian worldview. And I suggest that the only sanity for this nation is in acknowledging that and respecting that.

Now there are toxic forms of nationalism and there could be of course toxic forms of Christian nationalism in which you have, for example, something that reaches the idolatry of the state or the sacralization of the state. That's not what we're talking about.

But if you are a Christian and you are also one committed to your nation and you believe the nation's laws should be informed by and indeed acknowledged to be based upon historic Christian teaching, that comports by the way, not only with Christianity but with creation, you're going to be called to Christian nationalist.

So just get used to it.

Part

How Much of Scripture’s Commands Should Christians Seek to Legislate in Society? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Dennis also writes in a very intelligent question, and he's asking about basically the degree to which the law should correspond to scripture. In other words, how much of the scripture should we seek to legislate? He raises the issue of abortion, for example. And he also says that Jesus did not spend much energy on the political issues of his day.

And so Dennis is asking how much attention, how much energy should Christians spend on the political or even legislative issues of our day? Now there are all kinds of things to be said here. One of them is that our actual understanding of how the church operated according to the mandates and commands of Christ following Christ's example, that is basically in the latter parts of the New Testament, particularly in the Book of Acts and in the apostolic epistles.

And there we see that there was an engagement even as we sees principles that Jesus handed down, Jesus gave to his disciples. We also understand that the early church is trying to find its way in a specific historical circumstance. And that historical circumstance was first of all the subjugation of the Jewish people under the oppressive reign of the Roman Empire.

And then it was the early Christian Church, even beyond its Jewish roots growing within that context of the Roman Empire. And that is to say citizens, and that includes Christians who are often at the lower levels of socioeconomic power. Christians didn't have much influence on anything that we might even stretch to call legislation. We're talking here about Imperial Rome. And so the law was basically Caesar. That's a very different political context from what we know today.

And by the way, we don't have time to track all of this out, but it was overwhelmingly a Protestant, post-Reformation development that led in so many western nations to what we would now know as a more restrained constitutional form of government that would include far more citizen involvement, including what we know in the United States as a representative democracy.

We elect those who will legislate for us. So at this point, we simply have to say that American Christians bear simply by our political stewardship. We bear a far higher political responsibility than a Jewish man in Jerusalem or Judea did in the first century, and more than a Christian man or woman did in Rome or in the Roman Empire's reach within the second or third century. 21st-century life where you have citizens of the United States bearing the responsibility of the vote and the opportunity to influence the society, that is a very, very different context.

And here I would say we need to lean heavily into what Jesus said to his disciples about being salt and light in a world that desperately needs both salt as in preservation and light as in the illumination that comes from the revelation of God's word.

Part

What is the Difference Between Protestants and Evangelicals? Should All Protestants Be Evangelicals? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Connor writes in asking the question, "What's the difference between evangelicals and Protestants?

Shouldn't all Protestants be evangelical? If so, then why do people make distinctions between them?" Connor, well, you have a great deal of wisdom written into that question. There is one sense in which the most important thing you write is, "Shouldn't all Protestants be evangelical?" To which I would respond emphatically yes, but the reality is tragically no, at least in terms of church membership and those who identify.

So where did these terms come from? That's a fascinating question. And just to take them in order, well, that's a problem because we're not exactly sure at what point either of these terms developed, except we do know that by the time there came to be an official response of the German nobility concerning the reformation, they began to use the term Protestant.

These were those who were protesting against the corruptions and what was increasingly believed to be the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. So they identified with and as Protestants, and so the term Protestant stuck. And that's a very interesting thing because right at the heart of it is the word protest, and it turns out that is not an accident.

But when those early Protestants began to speak of themselves with an increasing theological understanding, they defined themselves, and this was particularly important in the very heart or cradle of the reformation in Germany. The word was often used by which they described themselves was the word that meant gospel, evangelical.

And so you have in so many denominations and churches that are grounded in that German tradition or in German speaking lands, might also be in Switzerland, you had the statement of evangelical identity, evangelical. And so you see this, even the names of some of the historic denominations in the United States, you see some churches that will declare themselves to be the German Reformed evangelical church or something like this.

And it simply means Protestant in that sense. Because to make your point, Connor, Protestant and evangelical at that point did mean exactly the same thing. But in the English speaking world, it's a little bit different. It's not that the word evangelical is never there, it is that the word evangelical wasn't a main word. It wasn't a common word and neither was the word Protestant for the one thing in terms of how churches described themselves.

And instead, you get all kinds of language for Protestant denominations. And here again, you're talking about a fascinating story. How did these denominations come about? Well, there were theological reasons. There were theological debates and disputes. There were theological convictions that led to these separate groups. Why do we call them denominations?

Well, it's the same root, the same verbal form as in mathematics, a denominator. In other words, we call it that. Denominate means name. Nominate means name. To denominate is simply to name something. And another irony of history is that most denominations didn't name themselves, at least originally, they were often named by critics, often in derision.

The Methodist did not intend to call themselves Methodist, but those looking at their methodical devotion called them Methodist. The Baptist did not intend to call ourselves Baptist, but got called Baptist because of the insistence upon believers Baptism. The Lutherans were called Lutherans because they identified with the teachings in the doctrine of Luther, long before there was any church called Lutheran.

It stuck. And when it comes to the Calvinistic tradition, most of those churches began by being referred to as reformed using the language that came out of Geneva. But in the United States and in Great Britain, in the English context, it was the ecclesiology that often became the denominator. For instance, the Presbyterians were named Presbyterians because their ecclesiology also featured a presbytery.

And so to bring this home, the word evangelical in the current context refers to conservative evangelicals, who by the way, would claim to be the classical Protestants. That's a point I want to make emphatically, even as so many of the Protestant churches and denominations I would say abandoned the gospel and abandoned the authority of scripture and went after Protestant liberalism and liberal theology.

Well, you had conservatives, first of all in those denominations who identified themselves over against theological liberalism as the evangelicals, the gospel people. And by the way, that certainly gained momentum and definition in the post-war period where you had the rise of evangelical organizations and where you had the rise of evangelical institutions and where the word evangelical came to mean conservative Protestants in the United States.

So Connor, yes, I believe all Protestants should be evangelical. Sadly, at least in terms of church membership and in the signs you have out in front of churches, that's not yet true.

Part

What Exactly Do the Words ‘Heretic’ and ‘Heresy’ Mean? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next question comes from Keith and he says, "You know, you use those terms heresy and heretic, and they're thrown around in terms of our theological conversation, but what exactly do they mean?"

And he mentions the Jehovah Witnesses and the denial of the doctrine of the Trinity. Well, are they heretics? Is that heresy? And then he raises millennial issues, "What if you have a post millennialist or a pre millennialist in a debate? Is one of them a heretic? Can either of them be heretics on that issue?" Well, this is a really, really good question and it deserves another long consideration. But a part of the fun of this feature weekly on The Briefing is that we try to make ourselves succinct.

And so I'm going to try. And here's where we need to recognize that in the original language, the word heresy is grounded in the word choice. And that points to something. To be a heretic or to choose a heresy is to choose the untruth over the truth, to deny the Orthodox Christian tradition and to choose something else. Very interesting choice of words, the very fact that to choose would be actually a part of this.

But it turns out that in the history of Christianity, I'm going to suggest that heresy is this, it is a teaching incompatible with biblical Christianity. It's a teaching incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the denial or the rejection of a first order theological issue. And so you mentioned the Jehovah's Witnesses and their denial of the Trinity.

Yes, that would make that church heretical. It makes that teaching condemned universally by the Christian Church because of the essential importance of knowing who God is, the God who has revealed himself as father and as Son and as Holy Spirit and the God who's revealed himself as one. The Christian Church through the centuries has learned to say that anyone who denies the Trinity is indeed not a Christian and has chosen to be a heretic.

And heresy is to be identified for what it is and to be separated from the church. Now, if someone asked me could a pre millennialist or a post millennialist or an amillennialist, that is different beliefs about the timing and the sequence and the meaning of the coming of Christ, could a pre millennialist or a post millennialist or any other kind of millennialist be a heretic?

And the answer is yes, of course. Such a person could be a heretic, but it would have nothing to do with the millennial position. It would have to be a far more important theological issue right at the heart of the gospel. That does not mean that eschatology and the understanding of the return of Christ is something of little doctrinal importance.

It doesn't mean that at all. But it does mean that one can hold to the gospel and yet disagree on those millennial positions. I may say that a post millennialist is wrong, I believe he or she is, but I would not say based upon a millennial teaching that a post millennialist is a heretic and I have to go on further and say not even close.

So again, heresy is the rejection of a doctrine central and essential to the Christian Church. A heretic is one who chooses the false doctrine rather than the true, chooses to oppose the gospel rather than to affirm it. One last little but necessary distinction.

There is some distinction between a heretic and heresy. Because there are Christians who sometimes just think about some Bible studies you may have been in, just think about the predicament of the new believer. Sometimes from a Christian you may hear some suggestion of heresy. And this is exactly what took place in the book of Acts with Apollos himself. So Apollos is corrected and then he began to teach according to the truth.

So a heretic is someone who obstinate stands in heresy and is uncorrected and uncorrectable. But thanks be to God, the first responsibility when you hear someone speak or even hint at heresy is to correct it according to scripture. And thus you might recover a brother or a sister. But if that person is obstinate in holding to heresy, well, then that person by definition should be understood by the church to be a heretic and thus separated from the body of Christ.

Part

What Would It Mean for Christians If Scientists Found Life in the Sea on One of Jupiter’s Moons? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from a Seven-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

But finally, for today, I'm going to respond to a question from a father and son, David and Elisha.

And it has to do with the planet of Jupiter and its moons, specifically the Galilean Moon of Europa. And as the father writes, "As we continue to study Europa, we learned that some scientists believe there might be life on Europa in the ocean under all of the ice."

He says, "Since Elisha"--by the way, Elisha's seven--"since we listen to The Briefing, we thought about submitting this question. We wondered what the Christian response would be if scientists discovered life in the European Sea." And that means in the sea covered by ice on this moon of Jupiter. So what a good question. What if scientists were to discover on this moon of Jupiter some form of life?

Well, first of all, it would just be a matter of wonder, wouldn't it? It'd be a matter of absolute wonder that God would've created such a universe, such a cosmos, such a creation in which there could be the grandeur of even human beings discovering that this observable object sometimes in the night sky is a planet.

And around that planet there are actually moons just like the moon that is around and going around planet Earth. And on that moon there is a sea. And in that sea, it turns out there's some kind of life. That would not be a theological problem for Christians whatsoever. It would just be testimony to the further complexity and the grandeur, the greatness, the wonder of what God has created in the entire cosmos.

That's what the discovery of just any form of life would mean. The big issue here would be the discovery of conscious life because there is no theological issue other than wonder, and this is the grandeur of creation until we get to any kind of being, that is some kind of life that has consciousness and the self-awareness and a knowledge of right and wrong, and then a potential knowledge or lack of knowledge or love for or rejection of the creator.

And that is just far, far beyond any of the most radical speculation of those who are speculating about some kind of life on this distant, distant moon of Jupiter. So I wouldn't worry about that theological issue at all. As a matter of fact, I am sure that based upon the authority of scripture, we would come to understand how we would come to terms with the existence of some conscious life somewhere.

But I actually will go out on a limb here and say, Elisha, I don't believe that any such life exists. I think the testimony for that is found in the Bible where we are told that the entire cosmos was created so that on this planet there would be a habitation fit for the creature made in God's image. And that is human beings, including mom and dad and you and every other human being you'll ever see.

So again, thanks for the question both David and Elisha. It's just a good thing for us to be reminded that just any form of life found anywhere in the cosmos is just further evidence of the glory of God.

And I will simply go out on a limb and say, I do not believe that conscious life is going to be found anywhere other than here on planet Earth. And I think the clue for that is in the very first chapter of the Bible.

And in the email Elisha went on to say, "Thank you." So to Elisha, you're welcome.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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